Ethical Performance
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Friends with shared benefits

October 2014

NGOs no longer view corporates just as benevolent cash machines, they recognise they can offer a whole lot more than money.

Similarly companies are viewing NGOs not simply as some kind of philanthropic, right to partner-with organisation but a valued partner which can help them achieve mutual business goals. These are the findings of the latest Barometer Report from CSR consultancy C&E Advisory.

The report – the fifth in an annual series of practitioner-led studies drawing on a poll of 130 leading companies and NGOs – explores the drivers for, and barriers to, partnering, as well as future prospects for the corporate-NGO partnership agenda.

Its ceo, Manny Amadi told Ethical Performance, that what he found most surprising by this year’s study was the very high rating that both corporates and NGOs gave to senior leadership support for, and engagement in, strategic partnerships. “ This is, of course, important because leaders can create an enabling environment in which strategic, material partnerships can be nurtured and then thrive. My surprise is that previous (qualitative) information on the NGO side indicated that many NGO leaders either remained reticent about cross-sector partnering, took a narrow (cash-focused) view of them, or simply did not do enough to champion the necessary conditions internally in which great partnerships thrive. The strong vote of confidence given by NGOs to their senior leaders is therefore very encouraging.”

C&E Advisory found that both NGOs and corporates are gaining a greater understanding of the business potential of partnerships as organisations engage in multi-lateral agreements over longer timescales, leveraging each sector’s assets to maximise mutual benefit.

This year’s research has also seen a striking increase in the view that partnerships are changing business practices for the better. Around 59% of corporate respondents state that their NGO partnerships have helped them change business practices for the better (up from 46% in 2013) and 87% believe their NGO partners have helped their companies to better understand social and environmental issues.

Notably, 69% of business respondents believe that effectively harnessing their competencies and non-cash assets can make much more of an impact on their NGO partners than financial support alone.

And although a disparity remains between NGO and corporate perceptions of the value of non-financial support, this latest research reveals a narrowing gap as almost half of NGO respondents now acknowledge the impact that non-financial support, such as leveraging corporate competencies, canbring to the attainment of their mission (48%, up 12% on the 2013 figure).

When asked what factors were most likely to make corporate-NGO partnerships more important over the next three years, over 90% of all respondents state ‘increased recognition of the need to leverage each sector’s different assets in order to maximise mutual benefit’.

Amadi points out that the most common barrier to establishing successful parternships is internal communication. “This year’s Barometer established that companies and NGOs have some work to do in terms of engaging some of their internal colleagues – in particular finance and HR colleagues.

“However, as partnerships become more strategic and central to the purpose of NGOs and companies, practitioners will need to do more in terms of gaining year on year improvements in partnership performance. Direct experience at C&E Advisory tells us that even the most well-known and most successful partnerships benefit from proper mid-term reviews. Such reviews represent an opportunity for partners to learn what is working well and how to enhance these factors, whilst also outing the things that are not working well and identifying how to address these issues. We have seen the trajectory of partnerships shift very positively and markedly as a result of such reviews. The significant numbers of organisations that are not undertaking internal and ‘with partner’ mid-term reviews represent a barrier to the achievement of potential for strategic partnerships.

And what does Amadi believe are the main takeaways for NGOs and corporates? Corporates need to recognise that NGOs are increasingly ready to do business with business, he says. “They recognise the importance of strategic, mission-led partnerships that add strong value to business, whilst harnessing relevant assets on both sides. This represents an opportunity for companies and brands to think about, and activate, partnerships that can truly help them to change business practices for the better and support the realisation of greater financial, social and environmental value.

And NGOs need to see that the partnering agenda is increasingly important to business. Amadi maintains: “Savvy NGOs can use partnerships with the right corporate partners to reach greater audiences, and positively influence improvements in business understanding of social and environmental issues, as well as changing business practices for the better. A strategic, mission-led approach is critical for success – as is the need to act as critical friend (and not just unswerving mouthpieces) for their corporate partners. A certain creative tension is healthy in successful corporate-NGO relationships.”

You can download the full report here.

UK & NI Ireland | Partnerships


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